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64 Producers Sign Independent Writer Contracts

From Associated Press

Striking television and movie scriptwriters claimed Thursday that they had split management ranks after 64 producers--including the makers of “The Cosby Show” and Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show"--signed independent contracts with the Writers Guild of America.

But the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, representing the industry’s biggest producers, downplayed the defections, which represent the first significant break in the 12-week strike that has forced delays in the start of the fall TV season.

The 9,000 guild members voted Thursday night in New York and Los Angeles to decide whether contracts should be signed with independent producers. Official results of the voting will be announced this afternoon, union spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden said.

“We’re anticipating ratification,” she said.

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The 64 production companies include the Carsey-Werner Co., which produces two of the most popular shows on TV, “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World.”

Among the others to sign were producers of “Alf” and “The Muppets.” Also on the list was Michael Landon Productions, which makes “Highway to Heaven.”

None of the 217 big producers that actually belong to the alliance have signed independent contracts, management spokesman Herb Steinberg said Thursday.

‘Holding Strong’

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“The alliance producers are holding strong,” Steinberg said. “Our objective is to get this town back to work and get everybody working.”

Steinberg said most of the independents signing with the WGA are writers who have formed production companies to make a single film, a made-for-TV movie, and some half-hour TV programs.

“This is all very, very interesting, but it has no impact on the new season or on the contract negotiations,” Steinberg said. “What they’re talking about makes no change in the point of conflict, which are the deficits for productions of one-hour, prime-time TV shows and the depressed market for those shows in syndication.”

The main points of contention in the strike, which began March 7, are the writers’ demands on residual payments they receive when shows are rerun and for consultation on script changes made during filming, Rhoden said.

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